The Santa Clara City Council voted in a 5-2 vote to dismiss City Attorney Brian Doyle, at a special Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 1, with Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe opposing the dismissal.
The text of the agenda description “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release without cause” is a legal description. Doyle was an at-will employee, so the City doesn’t have to state a cause for dismissing him. It doesn’t mean that there is no reason for the dismissal. It means that he can be dismissed for any reason that’s not unlawful — for example, race, age or sex.
But for almost a week, Gillmor, Watanabe, former Council Member Teresa O’Neill (who was defeated by Kevin Park in 2020 and recommended her personal friend Doyle for the City Attorney job in 2017) fostered the misunderstanding there was no reason for the action and painting the rest of the Council as pawns of the 49ers — despite that fact that four of them actively opposed building Levi’s Stadium and one of them was a leader of that opposition campaign.
In fact, Doyle’s conduct has been characterized by conduct that would make people fire a personal attorney. He encouraged the City to litigate a voting rights lawsuit — including an appeal with near zero chance of success — that cost the City over $5 million, when changing from at-large to by-district Council elections in 2016 would have cost the City at most $30,000.
In a likely breach of professional ethics, Doyle concealed a settlement offer from the plaintiffs in the voting rights case until it was too late to accept it, when acceptance would have saved the City at least $1 million.
Doyle augmented his bad legal advice by being routinely rude and insulting to Council Members and actively fostering antagonism towards the 49ers — with whom the City has a 40-year contract that Gillmor lobbied for and signed.
Doyle’s attorney, Thomas Stout, requested that the hearing be conducted in open session, “so the people of Santa Clara have complete transparency.”
This wasn’t possible, explained Gillmor. “The way this meeting was called — it’s ‘public employee, dismissal, release’ — does not allow us to do that [hear the matter in open session].” This didn’t stop people from decrying the meeting as “closed door” and willful concealment from the public.
Gillmor, Watanabe and their followers describe Doyle’s conduct as “outspoken,” and claim that’s why he was fired.
“It’s entirely fair for the City Council [to reject] how the Council acted in previous iterations” said resident Ben Cooley. “But you should not act against people who are executing the actions of that [previous] Council faithfully. Everybody seems to be doing well and it’s not something we need to be going into at this time.”
“Five people just decided to dismiss the City Attorney without cause,” said San Jose resident and Council mainstay, Kirk Vartan.
“It’s just mind-boggling to me …the pettiness of this disruptive newly-elected Council Members … are basically using it as their own personal stomping grounds to do whatever they want in an attitude of, oh, well, ‘we’re going to do what we think is right,’ but is it really right to disrupt the City business? I don’t think so.”
In an email, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Burt Field told the Council Members that called the meeting to “Drive north to the San Francisco Zoo. Smear a couple of pounds of raw meat all over your body and jump into the Lion’s Den just before dinner time… you are hanging a Bullseye on your back”
Field concluded with the admonition “Hopefully I have given you something to think about.” Another speaker threatened, “Look out Mighty Five. It’s coming.”
Residents that favored Doyle’s dismissal focused on his actions in the California Voting Rights lawsuit that cost the City over $5 million; specifically that Doyle had failed to communicate a settlement offer to the Council that would have saved Santa Clara at least $1 million.
“If the [CVRA] settlement offer was not forwarded to the Council, that should constitute cause [for firing],” said one resident. Another resident, Jeff, asked Doyle why he didn’t bring the settlement offer to the Council.
“It’s rather comical to hear so many people be so hypocritical,” said another Council mainstay, Deborah Bress. “You’re blaming people for bringing the 49ers when the person who brought the 49ers here is the Mayor Lisa Gillmor, and her cohort Kathy Watanabe. I think we should celebrate that we have a Council that has the chutzpah to call a spade a spade and get rid of a bad actor.”
Ironically, in 2016 Gillmor and her allies led defamatory campaigns to hound former City Attorney Ren Nosky and City Manager Julio Fuentes out of their jobs.